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CN August 17 2017

Nothing much to report this week in the ongoing struggle to find equitable financing for Illinois’ public schools.

The effort to override Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto has stalled for now in the House, where there aren’t enough votes. The bill would outline a comprehensive plan for reforming education funding to public schools, and without it, the schools just have to wait.

“Yes, we have a budget deal,” explains Tribune Education reporter Juan Perez, Jr. ” No, we can’t distribute education dollars until we have this latest mess sorted out. And now you are seeing how again, the partisan divides that are happening in Springfield are playing out and driving this – honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this extend all the way through the Labor Day weekend. Personally that wouldn’t shock me at all.”

So if the override fails, does the process have  to start again, from scratch? House Speaker Mike Madigan says, no matter what, he’s not backing off the bill, known as SB1. “The Governor has also said that the parameters within the legislation are for the most part 90% to his liking,” Perez, Jr. explains. “So I don’t know that everything evaporates and you have to completely start from the drawing board. I think there’s a framework there that people can get to yes on. Again, … there are negotiations that are occurring and I would suspect that something like this can serve as a framework moving forward.”

What does this mean for Chicago’s public schools? Depending on what happens in Springfield, he tells us, “that assumes that $300-million in funding will arrive if the legislature manages to override and pass the current version of Senate Bill 1.” But there’s also talk of the City having to kick in an additional pot of money, too. Perez, Jr. says it’s looking like “an infusion of $269-million, the source of which hasn’t been discussed publicly by anybody who is actually in charge of making these decisions. Stop me if this is sounding like Ground Hog’s Day all over again.”

The major source of disagreement between House members is over the degree to which CPS, with its extraordinary proportion of students whose families live below the poverty line, should receive special funding to compensate the costs of teaching these more-expensive-to educate students. Perez, Jr. says the situation is complicated further by the vast disparity between CPS’ least-achieving and highest-achieving schools. At least three high schools, NorthSide, Whitney Young and Payton, were listed this week as among the very best high schools in the country.

“That’s amazing to see just kind of the broad range, only separated by a few miles here, sometimes not even that much,” he says. “It’s a question of how good the facilities are, how good the course offerings are, how good the academic outcomes are. It still astonishes me sometimes just to see just how broad those gaps can be in certain cases.”

If CPS’ fiscal troubles are ever solved, it won’t be soon. The loans that CPS has taken out just in the last year or two will cost more than a billion in interest over he next 30 years.

“I mean that’s an extraordinary amount of money,” he asserts. “And that ramp is climbing, but the debt service costs are also substantial and they are noticeable, and they are going to be growing as well. And what the school district is getting for these massive loans from their bankers are not the physical structures, the gleaming school buildings and facilities that you would normally expect to see. Instead, you are throwing a lot of interest and pushing off principal payments on a massive credit card bill just to basically get you a little bit of cash now so that you can kind of ease a little bit of the pressure that you have on the checking account this year and maybe next year.

But Perez, Jr. ends on an optimistic, if qualified, note.

“I think what the City is betting on is that to a certain extent the public understands the fact that yes, we do want to finance our public education system,” he declares. “We understand that this is a social good that needs to be financed, but everybody has got a breaking point. I don’t know how much patience there is amongst the City Council or others to take on yet another tax hike.”

You can read a full CN Transcript Aug 17 2017.

You can consider this show a podcast and listen on Soundcloud.

 

 

 

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CN Aug 10 2017

 

Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto of the education funding bill may bite the dust in the next few days.  At least that’s what two of Chicago’s most connected reporters are thinking, and they share their insights with Chicago Newsroom this week.

But, say the Tribune’s John Byrne and Politico/Illinois Playbook’s Natasha Korecki, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the bill will be free and clear and the money will start rolling to the schools.

At this moment, it appears that the Senate will vote on Sunday, and they will easily override the Governor’s veto. The story’s different in the House, though, where the margins are narrower.

“What I think is gonna happen is they’re going to take the governor’s plan and put it in a separate bill. And say, OK, let’s vote on the Governor’s plan. And see how much support he has. And he’ll get probably ten votes for it and it’ll go down in flames,”  Korecki predicts. “Then, if Madigan feels he has the votes for a full override, maybe he does that…but he needs a super-majority to do that.  It doesn’t look like he has that as of yet, but who knows?”

“There’s been some talk of maybe a ‘trailer bill’ that would help fix some of the things in the original bill that Republicans don’t like,” she continues. “and get a few more Republicans over to get their votes.”

So it’s still very much up in the air. But Korecki says there’s a signal hidden in Speaker Madigan’s decision to hold the vote next Wednesday. That just happens to be “Governor’s Day” at the State Fair, so maybe that’ll be the day when Madigan’s House delivers the fatal blow to the Rauner veto. It’s politics, Illinois style.

“People really don’t like this pop tax.”

That’s John Byrne’s succinct summary of Toni Preckwinkle’s “sweetened beverage tax.” But how does he know? Has there been any polling?

“The only recent polling I’ve seen is the 87% hating the pop tax. And also the “Twitter straw poll,” where my Twitter feed is nothing but people holding up receipts, with the pop tax circled.”

“She’s even managed to tick off the LaCroix voters,” he adds. “If Toni’s lost the LaCroix voters, she’s in trouble, I’ll tell you.”

President Preckwinkle feels strongly about the tax, though, not just because she insists the County needs the revenue, but because she feels it will encourage increased health outcomes county-wide. Korecki’s not buying it. “It’s just affecting everyone,” she asserts.  “I don’t think people are gonna change heir habits. They’re gonna change their habits where they shop, but you’re not gonna stop drinking something because of the tax increase.”

“It’s visceral,” adds Byrne. “I hesitate to compare it, but in the visceral-ness of it, it’s like the parking meter thing was in the City. People are angry about it. And people are angry about these other taxes too, but but this pop tax, man it’s right in your face all the time and people understand it and they’re angry about it.”

Republicans are going to introduce a repeal ordinance, Byrne reports. But Preckwinkle still appears to have the votes to prevail, although only if she casts the tie-breaking vote for the second time. That makes her the symbolic owner of this unpopular tax.

And that could lead to a challenger for her post in 2018. One, freshman Board member Richard Boykin, has already held a press event to attack the soda tax.

“He was much broader in his attack on the president, reports Byrne. “Her leadership style, she’s a monarch. He said if I do choose to run against her – this isn’t a campaign speech – but if I do choose to run against her this will only be one part of the ammunition I will have against her, and then ticked off these other things he said she’s screwed up, and how she’s dictatorial.”

Mayor Emanuel’s been on TV a lot lately, but not on the local channels. He’s been taking his message of resistance to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions on Sanctuary Cities directly to the national audience.

“He can go on CNN or wherever and they are happy to interview him as an elder statesman of the Democratic Party, because they’re looking for someone to hammer on Trump and he’s a very colorful interview,”  explains Byrne. “And then he gets to make his pitch for the city while he’s on there and they don’t have the background or the context – or the desire – to tick him off by fighting with him over violent crime when he’s on there talking about how Chicago’s gonna be at the forefront of fighting Trump’s immigration policies. This is clearly a pivot he’s decided to make and it’s working for him pretty well.”

But as both Fran Spielman and Mark Brown pointed out in yesterday’s Sun-Times, the Mayor’s record doesn’t always match his actions and his past statements on immigration.

You can listen to this show as a radio program on SoundCloud HERE.

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CN Aug 3 2017

 

Mike Fourcher tells us that school vouchers could be coming to Illinois. That’s been a key objective of the Republicans for a long time, and the Governor may have introduced them as he performed his amendatory veto of the education funding bill last Tuesday. But they’re not called vouchers. They’re called “tax scholarships.”

Fourcher, who’s a founder of the subscription news service The Daily Line, tells us that “There’s a whole fight about giving credits to charter schools and private schools.”

And here’s how it would work for parents with kids in non-pubic schools, according to Fourcher. “Essentially that they would get, the term that’s being used are tax scholarships, that every student that goes to a charter school or a private school qualifies as a tax scholarship for those schools for people that send their kids there.”

It would be a tax write-off. “A tax scholarship is another way of saying voucher,” he explains. “And I think that is what’s going on is okay, you know, we will get Chicago more money, but there’s going to be some kind of school voucher program that might go in, and that is the dream of a lot of conservatives.”

The bill that passed in the Legislature, it must be understood, is significant in so many ways. Despite all the headlines about partisan rancor and stalemate, both Democrats and Republicans managed, over many months, to hammer out an agreement that funds schools more fairly and lets schools rely less on their municipality’s already-stressed property taxes.

But the Governor claimed that the bill was unfairly generous to Chicago and amended it with his veto. That ignited yet another partisan fight. But Fourcher says he thinks there could be a resolution.

“Probably the week of the 15th,” he predicts.

Why? “A lot of people were already planning on being in Springfield that week anyway,  because that’s the week when the Democrats and Republicans have their big days (for the State Fair) in order to kick-off the campaign season. That happens on the 16th and 17th.”

 

Lori Lightfoot has been reappointed to the presidency of the Police Board. (We didn’t know that for sure as we were taping, but there had been broad hints earlier.)

Her reappointment was a difficult choice for the Mayor. Firing her would have shown him as weak – unable to withstand the criticism a woman he appointed has been leveling against him for his slow response to calls for police reform. But reappointing her would anger the police union and many rank-and-file officers.

As negotiations begin between the City and the union, Fourcher says, despite the issues of reform, this bargaining will center around economic issues.

“And if you read the briefs that the City has prepared, which I have, the City almost always makes a case about how the economics of the time are horrible and terrible,” he explains. “And the last time it went to arbitration was right after, it was right after the Bush administration and it was an economic disaster. It was a bad time, and so the City made the case that well this is a terrible time and so we need to keep wages down. And so there was a brokering of what went on, and this is traditionally what the City has done. The City has tried to keep contract costs down and in return it’s given away a lot of things to police officers.”

The critics claim that it’s those “things” – such as rules calling for the destruction of records, and the waiting time for officers to officially discuss their involvement with shooting incidents, for example – that are in desperate need of reform.

We also discuss the proposal to bring 20,000 housing units to the long-vacant South Works property on Chicago’s south side, with a massive lakefront footprint. Barcelona Housing Systems thinks it may have the answer in modular housing units that don’t have basements and can be built quickly and relatively cheaply.

But, we point out, 20,000 units would be a lot for Chicago to absorb.

“It would be,” Fourcher agrees. “Particularly in a part of the City which has been losing people. The south side of Chicago has been losing a lot of people and the south works borders South Shore on the northern part and it borders South Chicago on the southern part. South Chicago has one of the highest murder rates in the City. So you know, there’s a big question mark whether or not that’s something that’s really going to be able to grow, are people really going to want to move there.”

“And Chicago is really beginning to experience black flight,” he continues. “Black citizens are moving out of Chicago to go to places like Birmingham and Atlanta and Nashville and Houston. I have this conversation with a lot of black professional friends, where do you want to live? And there was an excellent book, The South Side, written by Natalie Moore, a large portion of her book is about how housing for African Americans is really not an investment, it’s often a money-losing deal…if you were going to try and build a new house in Englewood it’s very hard to build a new house for less than maybe $150,000, just the cost of doing it. But houses in Englewood are selling for $75,000-$80,000, so maybe this modular housing idea is going to be able to allow them to build housing that is affordable and in reach for a lot of people.”

 

 

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CN July 27 2017

John Chase and Danny Ecker have written a most damning account of Tax Increment Financing abuse in Chicago. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The BGA’s Chase and Crain’s Ecker worked for months reading transcripts, watching press conference videos and sending FOIA requests to City Hall for specific emails. They were looking into $55 million in City TIF money that was given to McPier for part of the construction cost of the almost-completed 1,000 room hotel across from McCormick Place.

What they found was an intriguing sleight of hand in which the TIF money was used for land acquisition for the hotel, but an equal amount of money from other McPier funds was immediately sent to Navy Pier to complete its current renovation.

“It’s overly clever, so give them credit for being clever,” says Chase. “Technically the TIF money was used on the hotel, on the land acquisition for construction, $55-million. ‘We’ve got receipts here and we handed (over) that money, and it just so happened to free up the exact same amount of money.’ What that doesn’t get at, if you give them that argument, which is still a little fuzzy in my mind because it’s not 100% explained, but just you give them that argument. They still don’t answer the second question which is the ‘but for’ clause, which is you have to prove that you needed the money. MPEA, look at it the way any developer wants to go and ask for TIF money, they want to build a project and they say, and they are sitting on a bunch of money and they want to go to an alderman and say, “Hey, I need 55-million bucks, otherwise I’m not going to build this thing.” And then an alderman presumably should go, “All right, well let me make sure you really need this money. Let me look at your books. Let me see what’s going on here. What exactly, how much money are you sitting on?” And we have from these emails it is clear from the head of MPEA, we have money for the hotel or Navy Pier, but not both. So they could have paid right there and then, they could have paid for the hotel. They are acknowledging they had the money on hand to pay for the hotel, so what was the real motivation for that $55-million? It was clearly Navy Pier because they got to do both, and because Rahm Emanuel said in 2013 you know, “Well all this soup will allow us to be creative financially,” and they were able to do both.”

“If TIF money is all based on need and you can’t do this but for the TIF money coming in, this development, well you know it was clear from these emails and from all the records we found that MPEA had all the money it needed for the hotel,” Ecker adds. “It was actually Navy Pier, this organization run by a separate private non-profit that has no blight to it at all that really did need the money.”

Adding to the confusion is the fact that, when the project was originally announced, the Mayor said that the TIF contribution was to be used for the construction of an arena, or “event center” adjacent to the hotel. DePaul was identified as the major tenant for the new building, although it would also be used for large convention events and the like.

“It was an event center, right, they were very careful about that,” Ecker explains. “So there was a lot of blow-back from the public on this. There was a lot written about it, and yet throughout all this discussion they ended up having to sort of tweak this agreement to say okay, none of this TIF money is actually going toward the event center, the arena, it’s all going to go to the hotel. I mean there was a lot written about it. And yet somehow it was not made clear or no one understood or reported that there was this whole arrangement going on behind the scenes to say ‘well they are actually using this TIF money to go to the hotel which just frees up the money to go to Navy Pier. And if that were the case I’m guessing there would probably be even more public blowback and it might not have gone through.”

Mayor Emanuel’s defense so far has revolved principally around job creation. he touts the thousands of construction jobs at both the Pier and the hotel, and the hundreds of jobs running these attractions, at least some of which will hire local residents.  But Chase says the jobs argument  doesn’t necessarily justify the expenditure.

“The idea that the only place to create jobs is at McCormick or Navy Pier, while those are certainly big and they certainly generate a ton of revenue for the City of Chicago and nobody wants to see them fail, the idea of taking from this pot that’s supposed to be set aside for a certain region or neighborhood, and to fight urban blight and to do this, whether they found a legal loophole or whether they actually…the money, that argument is almost, you know, that’s just one piece of the argument, those could have created a ton of jobs and generated a lot more for the neighborhood that created that TIF money.”

 

“I think there is, there are records that show that yes, this TIF money went to reimburse expenses related to construction of the hotel,” Ecker explains. “But, what these emails show, and as we’ve said, this was not the purpose of the TIF money, you know, and that was sort of this… If you want to call it staying within the legal boundaries that’s one thing, but this was not, this was sort of a blatant abuse of this system. You know in order to say well this is just going to be a front and it’s going to obscure what we are actually doing here, so if you want to call that within, just a good loophole that they found that’s one thing, but it certainly underscores this whole point about TIFs, and that’s long been scrutinized as this program that has very little oversight and it can be used as a slush fund for the Mayor.”

So, in the end, was this elaborate ruse worth it? Mayor Emanuel has said that in the past couple of years Chicago has regained its title, and is once again the nation’s leader in conventions. And tourism, the City claims, is at its highest-ever level. So did these investments trigger the bump? Chase says we won’t know for a while, because the hotel and event center aren’t even open yet. And with increased competition from mid-sized cities and the general drop in conventioneering due to on-line meetings and tightened budgets, Chicago’s overall convention business will likely continue to drop over the long run.

“But,” he asserts, “What we can say and what should be tied to these projects in perpetuity is the way these were done was not above board, you know, and this was a totally misleading way that it was done. So whether you want to say the end justifies the means, we don’t even know, because we don’t know if these are going to be worth the investment and whether they are going to be money-making efforts. But we can say that clearly this was done unscrupulously.”

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CN July 20 2017

Well, Illinois has a budget. But the schools don’t. Chicago Public Schools, for the third year in a row, presented to its principals a budget for their individual schools that’s based on state money that has been promised – sorta – but not truly appropriated. this time it’s $300 million.

The Legislature, as we know, handed the governor a pretty punishing defeat when it passed a budget he didn’t want and then overrode him when he vetoed it. His response? To fire large numbers of his staff, which then triggered secondary resignations from many others.

Our experts this week are WBEZ’s Illinois politics reporter Tony Arnold and Chris Fusco, the Managing Editor of the Sun-Times. Fusco tells us the budget didn’t get resolved because there had finally been a meeting of the minds between the governor and House Speaker Mike Madigan.

“It’s the credit agencies that really forced the State’s hand here, right. I think if it was up to Rauner and Madigan they would have just kept battling it out… Rauner wants to make us an anti-union State, or he’s kind of backed off that rhetoric. Now I think we’re going to kind of go back to that with the people he’s brought in, versus Madigan trying to protect labor rights, but also by doing that potentially exacerbating the pension problem. So we have these two guys and the credit agencies stepped in and said, “Hey, we’re going to lower you to junk.”

But as other state functions begin to blink back to life, money for schools is being held up because of, as always, pensions.

“Rauner has recently been saying he would veto part of the bill that would pertain to Chicago public schools,” explains Arnold. “The old amendatory veto, the AV. He does have the power to do that,  although Chicago public school says what he’s talking about would actually be unconstitutional, so it’s setting itself up for a very long prolonged court fight over…benefits in retirement.”

We’ve heard for years that the Illinois Supreme Court won’t allow cuts, or “diminishment” of pension payments because the Constitution forbids it.  But, says Arnold, “As far as contributions to a pension fund from the state government, well they’ve skipped those pension payments for years and that’s been allowed so far.”

So CPS and other agencies are required to make full pension payments, but they, and the Legislature, aren’t required to put the full amount of money in each year.

Nevertheless, the Legislature did accomplish something that’s been unreachable for decades. It refigured the formula for how Illinois schools are funded in away that allows additional money to flow to schools with higher populations of poor students.

“Governor Rauner I think is okay with most of what the formula is,” Arnold explains. “His Education Secretary has said he’s okay with 90% of it, that 10% is too much and that’s what he would veto out. So, for the most part, if the elected officials, the legislature, even though this thing passed with bare minimum in the House, the formula itself, the proposed formula, the new distribution model to give districts in poor property-wealth areas more state money than what they’ve been getting, because they say the whole systems have been inequitable for the last several years, that yes, this is a good way to do it.”

And having the state pick up Chicago’s share of the teachers’ pensions was part of that legislative deal. Until now, Chicago had to pay its own pension contribution, but Chicagoans, through their taxes, also support the pensions of teachers in every other school district in the state. That became more of an urgent issue because the state legislation also mandated that the City of Chicago must make its annual pension payment each year.

“And all of a sudden,” says Fusco, “after kicking the can down the road for years, we’ve got to make $600-million, $700-million payments into that fund to bring it up to the funding level that state law allows.”

So what does this mean at the school level? If there’s a veto and the veto sticks, there will be a massive hole in the CPS budget again this year. But CPS budgets the number anyway and hopes the check arrives.

“This has been the CPS stance now a few years running,” Fusco asserts. “You know we budget for the money. The money is going to be there. Wait, no, the money is not there. Okay, what do we do to get the money? How do we shuffle it? What do we borrow? Oh wait, now the borrowing rate is up to…depending on whether it’s short-term, long-term, anywhere as high as 6%. I think one CPS borrowing deal hit 9%. Just compare that to what you think about what you’re paying on your mortgage or your car loan. It’s just a real crazy time.”

The Governor has apparently decided that, if he’s going to get re-elected, he’ll have to hew more to the right flank of his party and his supporters. That’s why he’s brought in new staffers from the Illinois Policy Institute and other conservative advocacy groups.

“That’s what the Trump era has delivered us, and Rauner I think maybe stealing a page from that playbook, even if some of those people go against some of the values that he espoused in his first campaign,” Fusco tells us.

Arnold adds that Rauner’s staff had been heavily recruited from people who had formerly worked with Republican Senator Mark Kirk. “And Kirk’s whole political philosophy, when he was in the House he represented Chicago’s northern suburbs, which is not a strong Republican stronghold, but he represented that area for years, and in the Senate, was to be a moderate. To be a moderate Republican is how Republicans win statewide in Illinois.”

“When you have such high turnover, up to 20 people have either been fired or resigned in two weeks, that’s a huge turnover, and its policy people,” Fusco explains. “It’s high-ups in his office, people who advise him on policy, the chief of staff for the entire State government, so it’s noteworthy for that reason alone.”

Finally, we ask Managing Editor Chris Fusco about the recent sale of the Sun-Times to a consortium of local investors and union interests.

“I think we’re all happy about it,” he begins. “There have been concerns expressed about union ownership of the newspaper. There’s been concerns expressed about some of the people that are investors in the paper that have been written about by our investigative reporters … And right now the new management specifically CEO Eisendrath have said all the right things I think. The newsroom is going to be left alone…You know this is historically how, there’s always a push and pull. There’s always going to be calls made to publishers and CEOs about stories. There’s always going to be pressure exerted on those folks. And one thing that I think Jim Kirk and I have both kind of relayed up that chain is – be prepared because you’re going to get the calls. They are going to come. We’ve been doing this a long time…Those decisions are left up to Jim Kirk and myself, and I think as long as we are following the playbook that’s kind of been laid out there’s a bright future for the Sun-Times.”

You can read a full transcript of this show HERE: CN transcript July 20 2017

And you can listen to the show in your earbuds at SoundCloud.

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CN July 13 2017

Sustainability.

It’s a key goal for urban planners, and Chicago rightly claims that it is a reasonably sustainable city. With its denser neighborhoods, effective public transportation and policies that support renewable energy, our city claims itself to be a sustainable leader in the United States.

So, as our federal government withdraws from the world’s effort to use cleaner energy and to initiate more climate-friendly practices, hundreds of cities, states and corporations are announcing  that they will continue to adhere to the spirit of the Paris accords despite the Trump administration’s position.

Chicago is one of the key signatories to such an agreement. But what does it mean?

We talk this week with Karen Weigert, who until recently was Mayor Emanuel’s Chief Sustainability Officer. Water use per capitalization in Chicago is down over the last couple of decades. Transit reliability and usage is improving. Open space, such as parkland, has increased somewhat.

And, as Weigert tells us, “Most recently the City has come out and committed that all municipal buildings, including schools, etc., will be powered by renewable energy by 2025. That aligns exactly with the goals of the U.S. and the Paris Agreement in terms of that time horizon, so that is a big leap. Chicago will be the biggest city to have that kind of a commitment, so I think that’s extraordinary.”

But the road to sustainability can be bumpy. Many of the dazzling technologies that empower sustainable policies also rely on automation and autonomous operation, which means fewer jobs. And for a city like Chicago, there’s a rampant need for more, not fewer jobs.

Is the horrific violence we’re experiencing  in Chicago a “sustainable cities” issue? It is if you factor in employment, education and training.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation about the big picture of Chicago’s environmental, and in a larger sense, social, future.

 

You can read a full transcript of the show HERE. CN transcript July 13 2017

 

 

 

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CN June 29 2017 Madeleine Doubek

 

Illinois is beginning its third year without a budget. Developing an annual, balanced budget is the most important thing a chief executive is expected to accomplish. But not, apparently, in Illinois.

I’m pretty not confident,” the BGA’s Madeleine Doubek tells us.. “I think there is no sign of any real interest in truly doing the job of governing versus doing the job of making sure we’re all set up and have our hits ready for the next election. And that truly is (as Fox32’s Mike Flannery said yesterday), immoral and depraved, because we are destroying our state, and the irony to me is that not enough people seem to really be tuned into this and care.”

The list of  State services and operations grinding to a complete halt is too long to list here. But its newest additions now include road construction and the lottery.

And Doubek, who’s just started in her new job as Director of Policy and Community Engagement at the BGA, says we can’t forget the social services that have been crushed for more than two years.  “We’re not helping. We’re not offering counseling for rape victims. We’re not taking care of funding some breast examinations for women. The entire Medicare system is fighting for dollars and cents. We have nearly $15-billion in unpaid bills, which is almost half, it’s about about 40% of what the state typically spends in a year, and those are bills and money owed to people who have already done work for the State of Illinois and provided services, and they are having to wait months to have a chance to be paid,” she laments.

We ask how it is that the Governor continues to fight so strenuously for two of his signature issues – a property tax freeze and revisions to the state’s workers’ compensation laws. It’s especially perplexing since the state doesn’t get any of those property taxes.

Doubek says Rauner’s talking mainly to suburbanites when he talks property taxes, because theirs are often the highest in the state. And revising Worker’s comp is also popular with some supporters.

” One of his other constituencies is the business community,” she explains, “and so I think that he feels like he has to be able to go to them and say, “I got something for you that you have been concerned about and complaining about for years, and it is true that Illinois’s rates are much higher than surrounding states, and so that is… You know at some point, maybe two years ago that was more of a legitimate issue than it is now, right, but now we’re to the point where really, you know. The house is burning.”

And at this point, she says, businesses probably have bigger worries. “Here’s what the Governor ought to be able to go say to the business community, “I got a budget done. Now we know at least for the next year what taxes are going to look like, so maybe you have a little more stability than you’ve had for the past two years. And maybe we can start chipping away at all this debt and get to a point where you feel like you can create a new job or two Mr. Businessman.”

So why is it so impossible to forge a budget? Doubek says she doubts that either Rauner of Speaker Madigan actually wants a budget because it’s politically advantageous for each to blame the other. But she says Rauner made a major miscalculation about the scope of his job right from the beginning.

“I think in the case of Governor Rauner he took it several steps too far by coming right out of his inauguration’s remarks and taking off around the state trashing labor, and trying to take some steps to curb labor power in the State of Illinois that just were never really going to fly. And in the process he destroyed any sort of goodwill or trust that he may have been able to achieve with his Democratic opponents, when he should have known that he was going to need them at some point in order to succeed,” she asserts.

And forging a budget at this point could probably be easier than everyone thinks, if  only there was the determination to do it. “I think if you and I were sitting in the Governor’s office around a table right now trying to hammer out a budget we could probably have it done in a couple of hours with the help of some terrific staff members,” she jokes. “And I think that it could be done in this case, but there simply is not the will and we’re in a situation where Governor Rauner from his perspective is trying to keep every bit of leverage he thinks he has…”

Which brings us to the 2018 election. Doubek says she thinks there’s a chance that Rauner will face some serious primary opposition.

“I’m not quite sure where that’s coming from, somewhere in Downstate or central Illinois perhaps. Maybe somebody in the legislature. There was a hint at one point that one of the state senators from around the Springfield area kind of hinted at that who has got some Union support might try something. And so I think Rauner is aware of that and concerned about it, or at least is being a little bit cautious because of it. I think you have to say that it’s going to be an uphill battle for an incumbent Republican governor however to make the case that he has achieved much when he hasn’t been able to get a budget done in going into a third year.”

Turning to Mayor Emanuel, Doubek says he could be passing up an opportunity to be he mayor who finally initiates significant police reform, and that could be a historic mistake.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” she says. “And after the Laquan McDonald video came out I think that he… when you think about the arc of time in history I think he was very much concerned that his job might be in jeopardy at a few points there, and he obviously fired the police superintendent and we have a new one. But you know we’re hearing from a lot of other key players in the City of Chicago that not agreeing to this oversight is not acceptable. And the trust there has been completely shattered and the only way you’re going to get the trust back, the Inspector General Joe Ferguson is saying and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is saying is to have that federal oversight that you agreed to with the Obama administration. And so if he’s somehow able to get around that and avoid that I think that would be quite an achievement, because I don’t think we’re well on our way to rebuilding the trust between the black communities where all the violence is happening and the Police Department.”

And finally, a word about journalism. Prior to going the BGA, Doubek was a journalist and editor for many years. “My wish would be that all of the people out there who are not happy with the way our politics and government is going would step back for five seconds and think about what it is that makes them understand and appreciate that their governments and our politics are not working, and it’s good fact-based journalism.”

You can listen to this show on SoundCloud here:SoundCloud here:

and you can read a complete transcript of the show HERE:CN transcript June 29 2017

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CN June 22 2017 (Bill Ruthhart)

 

Police reform in Chicago appears to have stalled, or at least taken a very different path since the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

Mayor Emanuel, who once swore he wanted a full consent decree with the federal government, would have committed the City to implementing dozens of reforms outlined in a federal report outlining  deep, systemic problems with the CPD.  But with the switch in Washington, the Department of Justice was no longer interested in getting involved with the operations of big-city police departments. So Mayor Emanuel has said that he will instead sign a memorandum of agreement with the DOJ. The memo, he insists, will commit the city to a full slate of reforms, but critics are skeptical.

With Chicago police reform efforts appearing to be slowing or perhaps morphing into something altogether different, it was time to call on the Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart. He’s been covering the scramble for changes to police recruitment, training, deployment and discipline for a long time, and it’s been a significant story in 2017.

Ruthhart tells us that there’s even controversy about how, or whether, the Mayor filed his memo of agreement with Justice.

“It’s an agreement between the Justice Department and the City.” he explains. “And so we’ve asked the Mayor numerous times who initiated this. He’s walked away from the podium and not answered the question. His administration likes to say ‘well this wasn’t our idea,’ but it’s not clear whether the Emanuel administration wanted to stick to the consent decree and the Justice Department said, “No, we’re not doing a consent decree, let’s do this instead.” It sounds like perhaps the City Hall drew up this draft of this agreement and shoveled it over to the Justice Department. The Mayor’s office says they have an agreement in principle to do this Memorandum of Agreement. The Justice Department says there is no agreement.”

Is it possible, as some skeptics have argued, that Mayor Emanuel only agreed to enter into a reform process with the DOJ because he knew that the Trump Administration would reject the offer, thereby letting the mayor off the hook?

“I certainly would not try to get inside the mind of Rahm Emanuel,” Ruthhart says, “But, I did point out that he knew who had been elected President. He knew the position of Trump and Sessions on consent decrees, and they’ve since signaled they have no interest in having court oversight of consent decrees. I’m not even sure they have interest of a Memorandum of Agreement over police departments. You know they have very much taken the position that the police should be given full leeway to do their jobs and Trump was heavily endorsed by FOP, including the Chicago FOP, and so you have very different politics there.”

So what should happen? If the feds are no longer a reliable partner, where do police reform advocates turn? “Lots of experts say you can partner with the ACLU or community organizations and enter court voluntarily,” he tells us. “The prospect of a lawsuit also has been hanging out there and  there’s one been filed…Emanuel’s administration could find a partner to go into court voluntarily. Some have suggested that could be Lisa Madigan’s office. Some have suggested it could be the ACLU. It could be some other unknown group that had standing and concern about police reforms, so there’s a lot of different routes to get there.”

There’s been concern among reform advocates that the police union, the FOP, could be a major impediment, given that union’s endorsement of President Trump and its overwhelming vote of confidence in the recent police union election. But Ruthhart says, it’s complicated.

“I don’t know that the Union has a lot of say in police reform at the end of the day if it ends up in court,” Ruthhart continues. “I mean you have a Justice Department investigation that came to some pretty damning conclusions. You know the Mayor signed that agreement after that investigation saying yes, these are all problems that need to be addressed and I believe a federal court should oversee them, right. FOP is not really a party to that…I mean the contract is subject to negotiations, right, and if there’s one thing Rahm Emanuel probably is pretty savvy at it’s negotiating. I’ll give him that for sure. And so I think there’s other things the police besides their 24-hour waiting period to stay intact. There’s certain things that perhaps they might be willing to give if they get better benefits or more pay or other things that cops want.”

Despite the cynicism, Ruthhart says there’s strong impetus driving reforms forward, and that this could still be a solid opportunity for change at CPD.

“The public sentiment and Lisa Madigan and Chuy Garcia and Toni Preckwinkle and many other members of the progressive caucus and City Council, you know, all believe that there’s been so many different reports and efforts at reform in Chicago over the years and none of it has ever really happened. And they all firmly believe that if we are really going to do it this time you’ve got to have somebody who is not a politician overseeing the process. And they are not doubting Emanuel’s dedication toward reform. I think people generally, at least those people I listed said we are not questioning his commitment, it’s just a matter of this should be removed from the political process. Budget considerations and things like that shouldn’t color what the actual reforms are and how they get done…So you know, I think this perhaps has become a bigger issue for him to deal with than perhaps he initially estimated.”

Listen to the show on your phone with SoundCloud:  CN transcript June 22 2017 Bill Ruthhart

Read the entire transcript of the show HERE:

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CN June 22 2017 (Claudia Morell)

It’s a pretty familiar sight. The Mayor, and perhaps an alderman or two, standing at a podium in front of a vacant lot or a dilapidated warehouse building, announcing that, thanks to a property tax credit, this construction project will hire X-number of Chicagoans, or maybe retain hundred or so jobs in the city.

Claudia Morell has seen dozens of these project announcements as she covers City Hall for the Daily Line. And she wondered how many of them there were. And how much they were costing Cook County taxpayers. And how many jobs really were created or retained. She still doesn’t have all the answers, but a big picture is emerging.

“Since May 2015 among the 60 applications total tax savings is about $92-million, Morell explains.  And the tax breaks, once approved, last for many years. “For example most industrial properties the set rate is 25%, but if a developer applies for a Class 6B tax break which is made to incentivize people to buy old dilapidated industrial warehouse property in Chicago which there is still a lot of, and if they are approved for the break they get a 10% tax rate for the first ten years, and then it is increased to 15 the following year and then to 20 the year after.

But with so many developers getting the tax beak, and the program running for years at a time, who’s monitoring the program to be sure those promised jobs materialize and remain in Chicago? “Aldermen have been asking what is the process the Department of Planning and Development  uses to make sure that developers are fulfilling their promise in terms of job growth, and if they are actually putting the money towards rehabilitating these projects,” Morell says.

Monitoring the program is critical, Morell explains, because it extracts $92 million from the total Cook County property tax base, and every other county resident has to make up the difference in our own property tax bill.

And, at this point in time, there’s no real way to know how many jobs have been created or retained. When Morell adds up all the promised jobs and divides it by the $92 million she arrives at an estimated cost.

“Yes, $8,500 per promised job,” she declares.

But there’s a catch. How long must those jobs last? And should the jobs of construction workers who work for a few months in the initial phase be considered as new jobs?

“That includes retained temporary construction and permanent jobs , but when you just do new permanent jobs and construction that goes up to like $10,000 a job. And then if you do just permanent jobs,  it’s like $23,000.”

You can read all of Claudia Morell’s City Hall and County reports and hear her weekly podcast by joining the Daily Line.

You can pretend it’s radio and listen in your earbuds at SoundCloud.

And you can read the transcript HERE:CN Transcript June 22 2017 Claudia Morell

 

 

 

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CN June 15 2017

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the dreaded “second installment” of Cook County property taxes, which will be due, most likely, on August 1.

But if you’re a property owner, have you ever scanned that bill and wondered, how did they arrive at this number? Why am I being told to pay this, compared to my neighbors or people with identical properties in other parts of the county?

Well, as Jason Grotto and his colleagues pointed out so vividly in this week’s Tribune series An Unfair Burden, the system just might be as messed up as you always suspected.

The series required more than a year of reporting, and the analysis of more than a million tax documents from 2009 to the present.

Their principal conclusion? People with resources are paying a lower tax rate than people without resources.  The situation is so stark that they found people in $75,000 houses paying  almost double the tax rates people with million-dollar houses were paying a few miles away.

It all has to do with algorithms, outdated computer systems, tradition and politics, all of which comes together in the Assessor’s office.

“We always had a notion that this was going on and just no one has ever been able to get underneath it,”Grotto explains. “You know, the fact of the matter is the reason why we’re able to do it is because of modern technology. We’re able now with a personal computer or laptop to analyze 100-million property tax records. We’re able to load them into mapping software. We’re able to run statistics on them, and so it really is this is an office that has functioned for decades with very little oversight, very little attention because it’s so opaque and convoluted, and it’s only because of modern technology that we’ve been able to do what we did.”

It’s a dramatic series in the Tribune, and an enlightening discussion on Chicago Newsroom. We hope you’ll watch.

Or listen here on SoundCloud.

Or read the transcript of the entire show HERE: CN transcript June 15 2017

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